Consider the culvert. While bridges and asphalt are on display for the everyday driver, the drainage culvert-- although hidden from view-- is essential to any effective roadway.
"To maintain a good roadway you got to have the proper drainage," said Tom Anderson of VTrans.
After spring flooding and Tropical Storm Irene wiped out more than 2,000 of them, many municipalities and the state decided to build bigger for future storms to come.
"We have a lot of undersized culverts in the state and now that we're trying to meet the ANR standards, we're trying to upsize those culverts to meet those larger storms," Anderson said.
The town of Moretown had to replace two of its culverts on Wards Brook Road with a larger, sturdier design made out of concrete. The problem is FEMA won't pay for all of it and the town is left to fill the gap.
"For each small town this can mean hundreds of thousands of dollars. Collectively across the state we estimate it's potentially $10 million. So, this is a very, very significant problem for many towns that are cash strapped," said Sue Minter, Vermont's Irene recovery officer.
Another example is in Townshend, where the Dam Road culvert washed downstream, damaged beyond repair. FEMA has also left the town with a $100,000 shortfall.
Using Townshend as a test case, the state this week appealed to FEMA headquarters in Washington. In the appeal the state argues that, "FEMA has taken a short-sighted and unjustifiably stringent interpretation of its ability to fund upgrades."
"What we are disputing in this case is those structures where FEMA has said we're not going to pay for the largest structure because we don't see your state codes as eligible-- and that's our dispute with FEMA," Minter said.
In Barre Town, another culvert washed out by spring flooding last year is also due for repair. Although the replacement design will be larger, it will likely qualify for another FEMA program, hazard mitigation. But that funding source is of little use for many towns because of its stricter project requirements.
Minter says the state's beef with FEMA goes well beyond Vermont's borders.
"Really underpinning this need to build back stronger is a concern about our changing climate. We know that we anticipate more frequent and more intense storms, and that's precisely why we need structures that can endure," Minter said. "And actually we think this is a national issue. This is, I think, what FEMA's mission is-- to build back stronger. And we believe we are setting an example here that FEMA should follow and take elsewhere."
Coming to terms with Irene's costs more than a year after the storm.
So far, FEMA's full-funding denials have come from the Region 1 office in Boston. State officials hope this latest appeal will reach receptive ears in Washington.
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